On Point: Peace, Justice and the Lord's Resistance Army

by Austin Bay
December 23, 2009

For 16 years, the Lord's Resistance Army's (LRA) war with the Ugandan government has been a vicious and squalid conflict.

Other wars plaguing the world feature mass rape, theft, kidnapping, revenge slayings and mass murder. Several haunt Uganda's neighborhood, including Sudan's Darfur conflict and the multiple wars within the Democratic Republic of Congo. They continue despite deployed U.N. peacekeepers.

The terrible pity of the Uganda-LRA war is that for almost four years international mediators, Christian religious groups and several African governments have encouraged and sponsored peace negotiations.

The peace negotiations produced a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, but failed to produce peace. Though the LRA no longer actively savages northern Uganda (its home territory), prolonged counterinsurgency warfare waged by the Ugandan Army, not negotiations, created that region's brittle quiet. Now, LRA cadres threaten villages in the Congo, south Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). This fall, U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo shifted forces to the northeast in an attempt to stop a wave of "Christmas attacks" by the LRA on Congolese villages.

Christmas attacks? The LRA launched several last year as its fighters fled assaults by Congolese and Ugandan forces on their sanctuary in the Congo's Garamba National Park. The U.N. estimated retreating LRA thugs killed 430 Congolese on Dec. 25 and 26, 2008. Forty-five of the murdered were hacked to death with machetes while seeking refuge in a church in the town of Doruma. (But wait, the LRA's stated political goals in Uganda included establishing a government run on the biblical Ten Commandments ...)

What happened to the peace process? The Ugandan government argued that the LRA's senior commander, Joseph Kony, had agreed to sign a "final peace agreement" in April 2008. Kony, despite repeated diplomatic efforts, however, failed to sign on the line.

Why? The International Criminal Court (ICC) has charged Kony with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Kony and his thugs have committed heinous crimes throughout the region. The ICC warrants are proving to be a diplomatic resolution, however. For Kony, peace may mean prison. This could be a case where lawfare furthers warfare and justice impedes peace. Peace without justice, however, is often merely a respite before the next bloodbath.

The ICC remains committed. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said this week that LRA leaders must be tried. Reflecting on the LRA's Congo attack, Pillay added, "The brutality employed during the attacks was consistent, deliberate and egregious."

Kony is a consistently vicious psychotic, but he is a small part of the complex mess. For years, Sudan's Islamist government (the wretches who continue to wage genocidal war in Darfur) propped up the LRA. Sudan used LRA violence to keep black African Christians and animists (in Uganda and south Sudan) "off balance." That the LRA billed itself as a messianic Christian movement must have gotten a lot of laughs in Khartoum.

Yet the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda, from which the LRA drew support, had and still has legitimate grievances with the Ugandan government, some rooted in historical issues with southern Ugandan tribes. The government has begun resettlement and economic development programs in northern Uganda, but the war has left deep scars.

Uganda's minister of defense recently said that the tactic of confining civilians to camps in north Uganda during the height of the war with the LRA was "an effective military tool for counterinsurgency." The government had argued, adamantly, that the camps were established to protect civilians.

Critics said the government forced the civilians (many of them Acholis) to enter the camps. Human rights organizations accused the government of failing to provide food and medical aid. Numerous Ugandans now, in the pursuit of justice, demand an investigation of those camps.

Tribal suspicions and historical grievances vex many corners of the world, which is why astute diplomats and generals ought to consult anthropologists. Consultation, however, won't bring peace on Earth, though it should clarify just how difficult and complex a task encouraging peace -- anywhere -- truly is.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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